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Bible Commentaries
Romans 2

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-29

II 1-III 20 Israel’s Need for the Salvation of the Gospel — Continuing his evidence of the universal need for the salvation revealed in the Gospel St Paul here takes up the case of Israel, the Chosen People. But there is no indication in the text of this change of subject. To make such an abrupt transition intelligible, commentators refer to Nathan’s conviction of David in 2 Samuel 12:1-9. As David whole-heartedly condemned the man of Nathan’s parable, 2 Samuel 12:1-5, so every Israelite would whole-heartedly join in Paul’s condemnation of paganism in 18-32. But there follows in each case the unexpected ’thou art the man’ 2 Samuel 12:7 = Romans 2:1-; Romans 3:20.

The progress of thought in 2:1-3:20 is not easy to follow. The sub-divisions proposed in the various commentaries differ widely. The difficulty arises mainly from the various objections with which the Apostle repeatedly interrupts the course of his argument. In addition, the actual objections are not stated in the text, but must be inferred from his answers. The objector is, of course, imaginary, cf. SH 69 f., on 3:1 ff.

II 1-2 A General Statement Introducing Israel’s Case with regard to the Salvation of the Gospel— Without mentioning a name St Paul here introduces the case of a man who condemns the idolatry and immorality depicted in 1:18-32 but is nevertheless guilty himself. Self-complacent he sits in judgement over the religious and moral life of others, but in reality he needs the salvation of the Gospel as much as they.

1a. ’Thou . . . O man, whosoever thou art, that judgest’: of whom is St Paul thinking? So far he has addressed himself clearly to all those who were guilty of gross idolatry, 1:18-23, and immorality, 1:24-32. But these apart, there evidently remained a large group of men who condemned idolatry and immorality as much as St Paul did, e.g. the followers of stoic philosophy and, much more numerous and outspoken than they, the whole of Israel. Hence the uestion, did St Paul here think only of Israelites or did he include also the so-called good pagans? Both possibilities are defended by different commentators. The opinion that Paul thought exclusively of Israelites has in its favour that in 2:17 he actually mentions ’the Jew’ by name, which he seems to have deliberately avoided before, in order to obtain a better hearing. Moreover, the whole description is said to fit the typical Israelite of the time who was proud of his higher religious and moral standards, cf. 2:17-20; Luke 18:9-14. On the other hand there is much to be said in avour of the opinion that here at the beginning Paul is still speaking generally, and includes everybody who fits the description, no matter whether Jew or Gentile. This opinion presents the wider view in every respect. After all, there were good pagans, then as now, and they could not reasonably be said to fall under the accusation of 1:18-32. Hence if they are not included in 2:1-3:20 they escape the Apostle’s argument for the universal need of the salvation revealed in the Gospel. This may not be impossible, but there can be little doubt that with 2:1-3:20 he intended to close the ring of his evidence so as to let no one escape from the accusation of being under sin and therefore in need of the salvation of the Gospel.

1bc. ’For wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself. For thou doest the same, thou who judgest’: this is Paul’s summary reply to those who would claim exemption from the previous charges of idolatry and immorality. As can be seen from his later explanations, he does not mean to say that those who belong to this second category are, in spite of their protest, guilty of all the sins enumerated in 1:18-32. But as far as the dominion of sin is concerned they are in the same position as those whom they condemn. For in principle they act in the same way, i.e. they, too, do not live according to their knowledge of God; and that is where their sin begins. Their guilt may be less evident owing to their higher knowledge of God, or because their religious and moral life is more refined, but this does not exempt them from the dominion of sin. They are caught in the net of sin like all the rest. This is no doubt a hard argument and one can well understand that the Apostle takes a long time over explaining it, 2:2-3:20. But, in all he says, nowhere does he go back on his word. Again and again he repeats it: all are under sin. There is no exception. Those who judge others, thereby speak their own judgement, cf.John 8:7; 1 John 1:10. The practical conclusion which the Apostle wants to be drawn from it all evidently is: living in sin ’you will also die in your sin’, John 8:21, unless you accept the salvation offered in the Gospel.

3-10 A First Objection— Do not God’s kindness, forbearance and patience give a sufficient guarantee that the threatened punishment of men’s sins will be averted, 3-4? To this St Paul sternly replies that such a hope is foolish. On the day of God’s judgment his justice alone will rule, giving everybody his due according to his works, cf.Psalms 61:12 f.; Proverbs 24:12. On that day God’s goodness will certainly not declare sinners to be saints.

11-24, A Second Objection— Will the Torah, the Law of Sinai, not protect Israel from the wrath of God? Paul’s reply is substantially the same as before. On the day of God’s judgement it is not God’s law that will be weighed in the balance but men’s works. On that day sin will be punished as sin, without any respect of persons, no matter whether it was sin against God’s will as read in the Torah or as voiced in man’s conscience, 11-16. 16. Some connexion with 15 must be inserted, e.g. [as will be evident to all] on the day when God judges. The whole sentence seems to have been added here by St. Paul to answer the excuse that the voice or law of man’s conscience is something which it is difficult to prove as it is hidden and secret and that it therefore should not be used in a discussion of this nature. Paul replies: this may be true for the present, but it will not be so on the day of God’s judgement. Then all will have to confess that they had God’s law written in their hearts.

17-24. The Apostle follows up his first answer with an argumentum ad hominem. After a solemn introduction in 17-20 which enumerates all the alleged prerogatives of Israel (but is left without a roper apodosis) he instances in 21-23 the 7th, 6th and 1st commandments against his objector: ’doest thou steal? . . . doest thou commit adultery? . . . doest thou plunder temples?’ With reference to these three accusations it would no doubt be an exaggeration to think that Paul regarded every Israelite as a thief, an adulterer, or a temple-robber. His point is rather that these sins were committed by Israelites, though they were expressly forbidden in the Torah, cf. SB III 108-15. The Law, therefore, has not saved Israel from sin in the past nor will it save Israel from the wrath of God on the day of judgement. ’Thou that boastest of the law, dishonourest God by breaking the law’, 2:23, cf.Matthew 23:3. ’But we know that the judgement of God is according to truth against those who do such things’, 2:2. 22. ’Dost thou plunder temples’, WV. This is commonly understood of pagan temples, cf.Deuteronomy 7:5; Acts 19:37; Fl. Jos. Ant. IV8, 10. The incentive to such theft seems to have been the great wealth stored up in many pagan temples. Others understand the phrase of defrauding the revenues due to the temple in Jerusalem. In this case ’dost thou commit sacrilege?’ is the better translation.

25-29 A Third Objection— Is not circumcision, Israel’s first sacrament, a sufficient guarantee for her salvation? St Paul’s answer is that circumcision does not make a man a saint before God, if he does not keep the law of God; cf.Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 9:26 Ez 44:7. And Israel has not kept the law.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Romans 2". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/romans-2.html. 1951.
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